Each holiday season, a piece of German tradition comes to Starved Rock Country.
Jackson Street near Washington Square is lined with German log home-inspired huts selling holiday goods. In addition, there’s reindeer, horse-drawn hitch rides, and, of course, Santa Claus.
Last year, Ottawa began a new tradition of Chris Kringle Markets, inspired by the Christkindlmarket in Nuremberg, Germany. “Kris Kringle” is the Americanization of “christkindl, or “Chris Kringle.” Markets of its kind have been popular in the Midwest in Illinois, Michigan and Indiana, as well as other states.
“We did one weekend last year. We did Saturday and Sunday. We had 10 vendors … and that was so successful in terms of interest and attracting people to downtown,” said Reed Wilson, Ottawa’s director of economic development.
“It was so successful last year we decided not only to do it again this year, but to significantly expand it. So this year we’re doing the first two weekends (of December) and we’re doing Friday and Saturday and Sunday. We’re doubling the number of weekends, but were tripling the number of days. Also, we doubled the number of huts from 10 to 20.”
This year’s market is 4 to 9 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday, Dec. 1, through Sunday, Dec. 3, and Friday, Dec. 8, through Sunday, Dec. 10.
The holiday gift items for sale in the huts will include woodwork items, authentic German toys, bath and body products, jewelry, jar lamps, wreaths, centerpieces, unique ornaments, candy from Iceland and Germany, repurposed and recycled Christmas trees, hand-poured soy candles and melts, homemade chocolate goodies and fudge, metals works, signs, gates, decorative crafted burlap, lighted bags, pillows and wreaths, handmade leather bags, alpaca socks and gloves, framed pressed flower/botanical pictures, music boxes, bella bags, fresh cut greens, handmade wreaths, white birch, red dogwood twigs, outdoor container arrangements, princess pine advent wreaths and pine cones.
One of the huts, Sammlerhütte, will sell Chris Kringle holiday mugs and ornaments made specifically for the event.
But there’s no guarantee of snow.
“We can’t quite figure out how to make it snow on cue yet,” Wilson joked.
And don’t forget food. Some of Ottawa’s most popular restaurants will be present selling authentic Mexican holiday selections, chili, cream of potato soup, ground beef BBQ, frankfurters, German sausages and giant pretzels. There will also be cider, coffee, beer and sweets.
Wilson encourages visitors to explore outside the market on Jackson Street.
“Everyone really seemed to enjoy the opportunity to shop in downtown Ottawa. And this year, the experience for Christmas in downtown Ottawa will be even better because we have six or seven new stores. This is really complimenting our efforts and I think we’ve been successful in making Ottawa a destination for unique shopping and dining.
“Our downtown has developed to a point where we think we’re able to present a unique shopping experience, not just at Christmas time but year-round, too. The fact of the matter is in downtown Ottawa tourism and visitors are the lifeblood of our unique shops and restaurants. We’re always looking for new ways to bring people to our downtown. I also think it’s a nice event for local folks throughout Starved Rock Country. It helps make Christmas time a bit special.”
About 20 miles west of Ottawa, La Salle will host its inaugural Christkindlmarket from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 9, and Sunday Dec. 10.
“Our group had tossed the idea around for a while but after seeing the substantial growth at Ottawa’s market from last year to the 20 huts planned for this year’s market we decided to get our market started,” said Leah Inman, La Salle Business Association vice president. “In fact, Ottawa was very supportive and we’ve worked together to assemble our own huts with help from some of our members. Our organization believes that if surrounding communities work together and offer multiple events it helps to create a ‘destination’ in the Illinois Valley. With additional visitors to the area, all of the communities benefit.”
Inman said shoppers can expect to find unique gifts, holiday and home décor items not available throughout the year or available at local businesses. Vendors also will sell authentic German trinkets, ornaments, and locally-sourced candy.
“We hope that visitors feel like they are in a small European town shopping for that perfect gift — all while enjoying the authentic music, food and drink during this wonderful season,” Inman said.
As far as entertainment, Chicago German band Die Musikmeisters will perform 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday, and local vocalists both days.
The market is at the revamped parking lot at Second and Marquette streets, which will allow for a spacious market and ample parking.
“We’ve laid out the parking lot to ensure that visitors feel comfortable, yet not too crowded like you might experience in Chicago or Naperville’s market. Between the Christkindlmarket, the dining and shopping options in our downtown and the Celebration of Lights at Rotary Park – it could be a full day of activity,” Inman said.
Other holiday shopping events:
— Keeping Christmas Close to Home, holiday market with 60 vendors, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 25, Park Place, 406 Hickory St., Bruce Township, 218 N. Sterling St., Elks Lodge, 201 N. Park St., Streator.
Each weekend, a group of downtown stores welcome shoppers for holiday-themed goods and specials.
The schedule is as follows:
Nov. 9-12: The Thoughtful Spot, Gigi, The Front Porch, Outside In.
Nov. 16-19: Apple Butter & Shugies
Nov. 24-26: Rosie O’Grady’s, Just Kidding Around, Brianna Lynn’s Boutique, VanDuzer Jewelers.
Dec. 1: Underground Hair and Nails
Dec. 7-10: Jenny’s Junk
Dec. 14-17: BlackBirdsBowl, New Beginnings
Dec. 21-24: Rock Soul Love